23 February 2018 04:35 PM

Landmines in Egypt

Monday، 20 July 2009 12:00 AM

Besides being a threat to the life and safety of individuals, Egyptians and other residents alike, landmines in Egypt pose as a severe challenge to economic development efforts.

Over the past decades, the gravity of this problem has unfolded as landmines have caused the death or injury of thousands of people in the Western Desert, Sinai and Suez Canal zones.

In addition, landmines have disrupted economic development efforts in these parts of the country. Still, this problem will look graver, if we recall the fact that of all countries of the world, Egypt is the most afflicted by landmines.

Out of a total of about 110 million landmines planted around the world, Egypt has 23 million, i.e; 20% of the total number of landmines, spreading horror and imminent threats of loss of life and property in the eastern and western parts of the country.

Over the past 25 years, about 7,923 people were victimized by landmines, including 3,200 dead and 4,723 injured, according to local and international statistics.

Because of the threat of landmines, a sizable part of Egypt’s arable land, amounting to 685,699 feddans accounting for approximately 10% of the total cultivatible area is rendered useless. 

Background :

- In June 1941, fighting started between the Allies and the Axis troops in Alamain which is 130 km to the East of Alexandria ending up with the victory of the Allies led by Britain that had occupied Egypt since 1882.

The warring troops left behind about 17.5 million mines in many areas of the Western Desert. Most notorious was the Devil’s Gardens where landmines were laid by the Axis forces led by the German leader Rommel to cover up his withdrawal from Alamain and prevent pursuit by the Allied forces.

The land mines planted by the Axis troops were laid in a random, cluster-shaped patterns at varying depths such that if one land mine is lifted, the other will detonate.

- In June 1967, as a result of the Israeli occupation of Sinai Peninsula, all kinds of landmines were laid in the area, with special concentration on the eastern bank of the 

Locations of landmines in Egypt:

Locations of mines in Egypt are divided into two main fields, as follows:

A) landmine fields in Western Desert:

The Western Desert mine fields extend from Alamain up to the Egyptian-Libyan borders with a depth of more than 40 km from the Mediterranean coast. Landmines planted in these fields vary in type and size depending on the troops involved in action. They are spread in ten fields as follows:

- The coastal strip on both sides of Alexandria-Matrouh road.

- The field starting 10 km on Abu-Doues road of Borg el-Arab, al-Alamain, a-Daba and Bagos (Gala).

- The fields of Nweider, Rwaisat and al-Marir, the most dangerous mine fields, where no mine maps were found. Here, dozens were killed and injured.

- The fields of al-Manaseb and Dair al-Qatany involving vast areas of arable land.

- The fields of al-Khawabeer, Dair-a-Ragel and al-Osayed which are among the most dangerous fields where mines are widely spread.

- The field of Bab al-Qatara 30 km, on Alamain - al-Humaymat road.

- The fields of Abu Dwis, Halq ad-Daba Zahr el-Hammad and al-Humaymat.

- Borg Raqabet al-Ralah where all kinds of mines are found.

- Thr fields of Fuka and West of Marsa Matrouh up to the Egyptian-Libyan borders.

B) Mine fields in Egypt’s Eastern Desert: They are the fields where mines were planted as a result of Egyptian-Israeli wars that took place since 1956 to 1973, as follows:

B) Mine fields in Egypt’s Eastern Desert: They are the fields where mines were planted as a result of Egyptian-Israeli wars that took place since 1956 to 1973, as follows:

- The field of west Suez Canal.

- The field of west Suez Gulf.

- The field of west Red Sea.

- The South Sinai Field.

- The Central Sinai Field.

- The North Sinai Field. 

Negative Impact of landmines on Egypt:

Undoubtedly, the presence of this huge number of landmines on the Egyptian territory has resulted in the disruption of various development operations in both Eastern and Western Deserts.

Many people are killed or injured, or handicapped as a result of the explosion of these mines. The negative impact of mines on the development process in Egypt’s Eastern and Western Deserts can be summed up as follows:

A) Eastern Desert:

Hindering many tourist development projects on the Red Sea coast and Sinai, and raising project costs established in these areas due to the high expense of clearing mines.

- Impeding efforts aiming at industrial development and establishing new urban communities not to mention the high expenses for clearing mines from the regions planned for development.

- Impeding agricultural development operations in certain parts of Sahl-at-Teena; Balooza and north Sinai.

- Disrupting oil prospecting operations in certain parts of the Eastern Desert.
B) Western Desert:

- Disrupting the cultivation of vast areas of arable land in certain areas such as al-Hammam, al-Alamain and Marsa Matrouh, where necessary water resources are available.

- Impeding expansion of development projects on the Northern Coast and Marsa Matrouh.

- Impeding the progress of al-Qattara depression which was supposed to be one of the grant energy generating projects in Egypt, because of the mines hindering the course of the canal planned to carry water from the Mediterranean to the depression.

- Hindering oil prospecting operations in certain parts of the Western Desert. 

Obstacles and Problems of Clearing Land Mines in Egypt:

In addition to the problem of technology and financial support, there is a host of other problems and obstacles that face Egypt in the pursuit of clearing land mines. These can be summed up by the following:

a- A large variety of types of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were laid by the Allies and Axis forces in Egypt’s Western Desert during the World War II.

b- Moving sand dunes and climatic changes over half a century have resulted in moving land mines from their original places.

c- The mines sensitivity to explosion due to passage of time or atmospheric factors has posed great danger to individuals.

d- Loss or absence of maps or information about these mines or even the areas where they are laid in. In view of the change of mine locations due to climatic and physical factors, existing maps for some other areas were rendered usless.

e- Absence of paved roads leading to the mined areas.

Non-availability of technologically advanced equipment to be used in demining. For example, there is a need for infra-red aerial photographing of the mine fields again by modern equipment to determine the positions of such fields, which is a very costly process.

g- The high financial costs needed to remove about 23 million mines. For example, el-Alamain fields alone need more than $ 20 billion to demine 17.5 million mines. While it costs no more than $ 10 to plant a land mine, it costs $ 300 - 1000 to demine it.

h- While immense human resources are required to clear land related to the process of demining, there is already an acute shortage of experts and personnel trained in demining.

I- Egypt is not listed in the international work plan to combat land mines, although landmines planted in Egypt represent 20% of total landmines around the world. 

Demining efforts in Egypt

Recently, Egypt has exerted intensive efforts to address the problem of land mines implanted in its territories. In the Geneva Disarmament Conference, 1996, Egypt called on countries that had implanted landmines in its territories to take up their responsibilities for clearing such landmines. The following records the offers given by various responsible countries:

- A meeting was held in March 1998 between the Egyptian Minister of Defence and his German counterpart, where Germany showed its readiness to offer the technological and financial aids needed to contribute to removing landmines. In October 1998, Germany offered Egypt 110 landmine detecting equipment.

- In the 1993 meetings of the UN General Assembly, Egypt requested the countries that had implanted landmines in its territory to shoulder their responsibilities and to provide the maps, records and locations of landmine fields.

The Egyptian Armed Forces organized a symposium, attended by representatives of both Britain and Germany, where some maps of landmine fields in the Western Desert were provided, as well as other aids in the field of training on demining.

- The Egyptian Ministry of Defence published a book entitled "Iron Killers" on the problem of landmines in Egypt. The book was designed to disseminate an international awareness on this problem.

- The question of landmines in Egypt was raised in the debate of the Peoples Assembly Education and Scientific Research Committee in the framework of discussing the strategy of developing the desert in May 1999.

During the debate, the Peoples Assembly members demanded that negotiations be conducted with the former countries of Allies and Axis, that were to be asked to offer technological and financial aids to remove and clear the region of these mines. The members, as well, demanded these countries pay indemnities for the damage caused to the Egyptians as a result of implanting such landmines which have led to the death and injury of inhabitants of these areas.

They demanded also of compensation for agricultural, industrial, tourist and metallurgical development and investment programmes in these regions for a whole half century. Besides, the members demanded the government file a suit before the International Court of Justice in case of failure of these negotiations.

g- The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has been calling the concerned countries, on top of which are Britain and Germany to offer aids, equipment and training grants to remove these mines. Efforts exerted by Egypt during the last years resulted in the following:

a- Britain offered Egypt a financial grant of $500,000 as a contribution to the costs of 1994 demining operations.

b- The Australian government presented some modern land mine detecting equipment in June 1998.

c- The European Union offered Egypt a sum $ 1.6 million as a contribution to removing mines.

In Ottawa, Egypt participated in the agreement signing conference. However, Egypt’s attitude of abstaining from signing the agreement and its reservations is consistent with the Egyptian standpoint on the issue of disarmament in general, as can be summed up in the following: - While Egypt is in full agreement with the humanitarian goal of the agreement and the endeavors to achieve a total ban on the use, transport and export of landmines, it has in the same time reminded all parties concerned of the difficulty of accessing the agreement, as it impedes Egypt from exercising its legitimate right of self-defence and safeguarding its national security, as well as its right to acquire assistance necessary to clear mines implanted in its territories in the course of battles waged on its soil, where Egypt was not involved.

- While suffering for almost half a century from the problem of 23 million landmines buried in its soil, Egypt has repeatedly called on the world community and the nations that meet to draft the Ottawa Agreement to take into consideration this grave problem. Moreover, no serious action for assistance has been made, with the exception of few countries that expressed their willingness to enter into consultations with Egypt to settle this problem.

- With respect to the use of landmines, Egypt also called for consideration of the nature of Egypt’s terrain, with vast, plain and easily infiltrated borders that lack any natural barriers to terrorist infiltration or drug trafficking.

Egypt’s security claim was represented in obtaining an appropriate economic alternative to landmines. It is difficult to move towards the disposition of land mines as a legitimate and cheap weapon of self-defence, in the absence of any other alternatives. The Egyptian standpoint was made clear in the course of the preliminary stages of the draft agreement.

- In order for Egypt to make use of the mined areas involving substantial agricultural, mining, industrial and tourist resources, there should be international responsibility for assisting with demining.

- It is Egypt’s belief that the Ottawa Agreement was concluded beyond the framework of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, without taking into consideration other questions of major importance such as nuclear disarmament.

This substantially undermines the agreement.- The Ottawa Agreement was concluded beyond an institutional framework that could allow different countries to express their views democratically and objectively. Thus, the agreement is exclusively expressive of the views of certain countries.

Egypt demanded the introduction of certain amendments to the provisions of the agreement to take into consideration political and security conditions involving certain countries including Egypt.

- Egypt believes the agreement is deficient, where it made no association between the disposal by countries of its stockpile of mines and the provision of assistance to countries in clearing mines from their territories.

 While demining is very costly, the demolition of stockpiles is very cheap. - While Egypt has good reasons for not signing the Ottawa Agreement, it believes that such abstention is not the ideal solution of such difference of view point, as the provisions of the agreement allow partial amendment, based upon application to be made to the Agreement Congress.

On the other hand, Egypt may present such comments or amendments believes fitting to activate the performance of the agreement upon the next review.


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